Low Back Pain: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

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Low back pain is one of the most common reasons for absence from work or visiting a doctor. Do you experience low back pain? Is it something to worry about? What are the causes? How can it be prevented? How can you treat it?

Low Back Pain: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Overview

Low back pain, also known as lumbago, is a medical condition that causes pain at the low portion of the spine. It is primarily sustained from lifting heavy objects or from unusual and sudden twisting of the spine. It is usually self-treatable and self diagnosable. 

Low back pain can be acute or chronic. While acute back pain is known to span for a few days to a few weeks, chronic pain can last up to three months. 

It can be a very uncomfortable situation as it can be exhausting.

Now, let’s look at the symptoms associated with this condition. 

Signs and symptoms

How can you confirm that you have low back pain? The symptoms associated with Lumbago include:

  • Dull pain in the low back. 
  • Intensifying pain in the low back after prolonged sitting or standing. 
  • Muscle spasm or stiffness in the low back. 
  • Resistance from the low back, causing difficulty in walking, standing or sitting. 
  • Pain radiating through the buttocks and thighs of legs. 

Causes

Some of the causes of low back pain are:

  • Strains: Strains are caused by the overstretching of the muscles. Depending on the severity, strains can lead to serious damage to the muscles. Poor posture over a prolonged time, lifting heavy objects, and sports injuries all lead to sprains. 
  • Herniated disc: This is a condition that refers to a problem with a rubbery disc between the spinal bones. The tendency for a herniated disc increases with age, causing the outside of the disk to rupture. It can also occur when there is a sudden twist of the spine. A herniated disc leads to the inflammation of nerve root which causes nerve root pain. Low back pain caused by disc injuries could last for longer than 72 hours. 
  • Sciatica: This is a disorder of the nerve in the low back, known as sciatic nerve, which causes a severe pain through the buttocks and back of the thighs. It can occur when a herniated or ruptured disc presses on the sciatic nerve. 
  • Spinal stenosis: This is the narrowing of the spine canal, which results in pain on the spinal nerves. 
  • Deformity of spine curvature: When a spine is deformed, it places pressure on the vertebrae, muscles, and tendons. It can also lead to the breakdown of discs and spinal stenosis. 

Risk factors 

Several factors increase the risk of low back pain. Some of them are:

  • Ageing: According to research, older people have a higher tendency to experience low back pain. As we age, we tend to lose fluid content which acts as a cushion between the vertebrae and the spine. This makes the disc in the spine prone to irritation more easily.
  • Genetics: Certain conditions that lead to back pains such as degenerative disc disease are inheritable.
  • Poor working conditions: Jobs that require standing for long periods or frequent squatting and lifting of heavy objects puts a person at risk of low back pain. 
  • Inactive or sedentary lifestyle: Staying in one position over a long period or doing too little physical activities increases the risk for low back pain. You must stay as active as possible.
  • Excess weight: Excess weight can lead to too much stress on the low back, which causes low back pain.
  • Pregnancy. It’s not uncommon for pregnant women to experience low back pain. This is caused by the extra baby weight. As pressure builds up on the low back, it results in pain. 

When to seek medical attention 

A visit to your doctor may not be necessary for most low back pain conditions. However, certain signs call for medical care. These signs include:

  • No noticeable improvement after a few days. It’s common to see improvements within three days.
  • Pain which prevents you from working. 
  • Pain worsens with time. 

These signs indicate the possibility of an underlying health condition. In such cases, it is important to visit your doctor for a diagnosis. 

Diagnosis

For low back pain that is unresponsive to physical therapy, your doctor would likely carry out one or more of the following tests to examine the cause of the pain.

  • X-ray: Conducting an x-ray will help check for joint and bone-related conditions such as arthritis and broken bones. 
  • CT scans: A CT scan will help reveal problems associated with bones, muscles, nerves, ligaments, and tissues. 
  • Electromyography (EMG) or Nerve conduction test: This test helps in identifying nerve-related problems such as spinal stenosis or nerve compression caused by a ruptured disc. 
  • Blood test: Blood can confirm if your pain is caused by an infection or some other health condition.

Complications

Some of the complications that can arise from low back pain are:

  • Cancer of the spinal cord. 
  • Arthritis: The inflammation of joints causing pain. 
  • Kidney infection. 
  • Infection of the spine. 
  • Fibromyalgia: Widespread chronic pain and tenderness of the muscles, tendons, and joints. 
  • Spondylitis: A disease causing the inflammation of the spine. 
  • Endometriosis: A growth of tissue beyond the lining of the uterus. 
  • Ovarian cysts: A gathering of fluid within or on the surface of the ovary. 
  • Uterine fibroid: A non-cancerous growth on the uterus. 

Prevention

The following practices can help prevent low back pain.

Treatment

As mentioned earlier, most low back pain problems usually get better with time. It is however advised that you take medication if the pain doesn’t stop. Some of the treatment techniques include:

  • Self-care: Common back pains are caused by muscle strains, and can be relieved by resting the back and applying basic physical therapy to relax the back muscles. 

Helpful physical therapies include low back massage, stretching, and alternatively applying hot and cold compression packs to the affected area.

Having a warm bath has also been found to help relieve pain. You can avoid straining your back by lying on your side. For most low back pains, the pain resolves within 72 hours. However, if the pain persists beyond the 72 hours, it’s advised that you seek medical attention. 

  • Medical treatment: Low back pains lasting for longer than 72 hours are often linked with other health conditions and require further medical examination and treatment. 

Depending on the symptoms, your doctor will determine what medications are most appropriate for your condition. Medical treatments to be prescribed by your doctor include drugs, injections, and muscle relaxants. 

  • Surgery: Reserved as a last resort, surgery would only be recommended by your doctor when the low back pain shows no response to other medical therapies.

Final words 

Low back pain should not be a cause for panic. It’s a common problem that affects over 80% of adults. The prevention techniques listed in this article can go a long way to avoiding or reducing the severity of the pains. 

However, if you find the pain interferes with your daily activities and becomes too painful, it’s best to meet with your doctor. 

Read another helpful post: 7 Effective Stretches to Ease Lower Back Pain

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